At various points throughout Super 8 I asked myself, "Is this movie better than E.T.?"
Where E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial was my childhood world in real-time, Super 8 was still just a recreation of my youth through the clever use of childhood artifacts. That's not to say Super 8 is derivative. An homage? Yes. A love letter to the imprint Spielberg left on our collective childhood? Absolutely. But it stands on its own, rarely trying to be too clever; trading on its 1979 authenticity for a cheap nod-and-wink only once with some brief, non-essential (and unfortunately anachronistic) dialog about the Walkman.
With Super 8, writer-director J.J. Abrams has reclaimed the ’70s. Not as the camp joke it has become in our shared memory through disco, bell-bottoms, and That ’70s Show, but as it really felt when we were living it, unassumingly woven into the fabric of everyday lives.
From start to finish, Super 8 enveloped me. I knew the smell of Joe’s bedroom and the feel of Charles’ family’s kitchen. The familiarity of small town Ohio and the freedom of spending summer on your bike were as tangible here as they were my everyday reality 30 years ago. Abrams somehow captured the wonder of a late ’70s Midwestern childhood, fused it with Spielbergian tropes (like a single-parent household and extra-terrestrial elements), and came up with something so authentic, so genuine, it transcends the sentimental.
So, is Super 8 better than E.T.? I can only seem to answer the question this way: E.T. was the perfect movie for 11 year-old me, just as Super 8 – cut from the same cloth in terms of story, tone, and execution – is the perfect version of E.T. for 40 year-old me.
When the credits began to roll at the end of Super 8, Tracy turned to me and said, "That was awesome." Plastered to my theater seat with a nostalgic lump in my throat, I knew what she meant.